TOTW: make sure your online shop is legal

By: John McGarvey

Date: 12 October 2012

Abandoned shopping trolley{{}}

Is your online shop causing customers problems? (Image: wonderferret on Flickr.)

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) recently performed a 'websweep' exercise (a pleasingly retro-sounding term which reminds me a little of the days when we user to 'surf' the internet). This saw the watchdog review the UK's top 100 online retailers to check they are complying with their legal obligations, particularly those relating to distance selling.

Its results were mixed. Overall, around two-thirds of businesses weren't complying with all the legal requirements. However, problems were really grouped in three key areas.

So, for this week's tip of the week we thought we'd give you those three key things, so you can check them on your ecommerce website. They'll help make sure you're legally compliant, and give your customers the information they need to buy with confidence:

  1. Make sure you have a real-world address. The regulations say you need to provide your postal address if you ask for payment in advance. Make sure this is the real location of your business, not a PO Box. Make this easy to find by putting it on your 'contact' page or including it in your website footer.
  2. Provide an email address so people can contact you. Only 38% of sites checked provided an email address, even though ecommerce regulations say you must show one somewhere. Many websites rely on just a contact form, which is not enough. (Contact forms can also be prone to failure, so email is a good backup.)
  3. Be upfront about all extra charges. The OFT found that 60% of websites added extra charges which weren't clear from the outset. These were usually delivery charges. It's best to price your items with delivery included, or provide a clear 'plus delivery' label on prices.

If your online shop is built using an ecommerce system, it should be relatively straightforward to make these changes without delving into your website's HTML code.

You can read the OFT's full report here (PDF). Do any of these requirements come as a surprise to you? Leave a comment and let us know.

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